Over the last couple of years, terpenes have been mentioned with much more frequency among cannabis consumers. If you asked a botanist, “what are terpenes” they would most likely tell you they are in the essential oils of plants. Furthermore, they are aromatic organic hydrocarbons. You can find them in a variety of plants and even some insects. Now, most people use the term when referring to cannabis terpenes.
What is a Terpene?
The word terpene is searched about five times more now than it was two years ago. This is due to the interest generated by the cannabis industry. A decade ago, most growers and consumers were mainly concerned with one thing and one thing only: THC levels. Now, many consumers are aware that cannabis terpenes are responsible for the distinct smell of each strain.
Terpenoids are similar to the terpene with one minor difference. Terpenoids are terpenes that have been denatured by oxidation. There are also different names for the various structures a terpene can have. Monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and others are named after the number of isoprene units they contain. Monoterpenes contain two but there are sesquiterpenes other more complex terpenes that contain additional isoprene units.
The interest in cannabis terpenes is due to more than just the smell. Research has suggested that when a terpene interacts with cannabinoid receptors they can assist or hinder the effects of cannabinoids. Since then, products high in terpenes have increased in popularity. More breeders, growers and extractors are working to enhance the flavor profiles of cannabis by maximizing and preserving terpene levels.
Potential Entourage Effect
The terpene profile helps us do more than distinguish strains by smell. It can also help us understand why people with medical conditions seem to benefit more from one strain over another with a similar THC level.
Dr. Ethan Russo, MD, the Director of Research and Development at International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute and a Senior Medical Advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals found CBD antagonized the effects of THC during a study in 2006. Further research found the presence of other cannabinoids in combination with THC to enhance the overall effects.
After research illustrated the synergistic or “entourage effect” between two cannabinoids, Dr. Russo went on to study the synergistic effects of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Russo’s research on cannabis synergy concluded that terpenoid content offers “complementary pharmacological activities that may strengthen and broaden clinical applications and improve the therapeutic index of cannabis extracts.”
There are hundreds of terpenes. Each terpene has a unique scent and many have been studied for their unique effects. Not to mention, potential synergetic effects when combined with cannabinoids and other terpenes.
Here are the 10 most commonly found in cannabis.
The most prevalent terpene found in cannabis is myrcene. Multiple analytical labs claim the myrcene concentration dictates whether a strain will have a sedative indica effect or the effects of an energetic sativa.
Beta-Caryophyllene, humulene, and pinene all have anti-inflammatory effects. Research from Dr. Jürg Gertsch found one terpenoid could bind to CB2 receptors: beta-caryophyllene. However, more research is necessary to prove the enhanced effects of cannabinoids combined with specific cannabis terpenes.
Final Hit: What Are Terpenes?
There isn’t enough research on the effects of a specific terpene in combination with cannabinoids. So far, research has pointed to the potential effects without any conclusive evidence.
Despite this, many users feel extracts with the full spectrum of terpenes available on top of cannabinoids are more effective than isolated cannabinoids. As a result, connoisseurs are looking for terpene percentages on lab testing instead of just THC and CBD levels. If you want a product with high terpene levels, follow your nose.
You’ll need to properly cure and store cannabis flowers to preserve the terpene levels. When it comes to extracting, we found butane hash oils had the highest terpene percentage. While higher terpene levels are usually a sign of quality, there is such a thing as too many terpenes. Extracts with higher than 40 percent terpene contents are unpleasant to vaporize and far from the ratios found in an actual plant.
When shopping for terpenes there are high terpene extracts with little cannabinoid content, high terpene full spectrum extracts with higher cannabinoid contents and finally, isolated terpenes with no cannabinoid content. Isolated terpenes extracted via certain distillation processes are not pure. They may contain “hydrosols” which aren’t typically found in the cannabis plant or its other extracts. There is no research on the effects of inhaling hydrosols but they are typically used to treat skin conditions or in cleaning products.